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Masculine and feminine in Spanish: the definitive guide!

How to know if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish? I can help you with that!

The grammatical gender is an arbitrary classification that divides nouns into two types: masculines or feminines.

Not only in Spanish, but also in other Romance and non-Romance languages, such as German and Russian.

However, the gender in Spanish language can be really tricky sometimes.

The general rule is that words ending with -o are masculine and words ending with -a are feminine.

But then you find out that it’s la foto, not el foto. Or el agua in singular, while las aguas in plural.

What?!

Don’t worry! These key rules will make it easier for you!

How to know if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish

It’s important to know the grammatical gender of a noun in Spanish because all of the elements referring to them (articles, adjectives, pronouns…) will agree in grammatical gender, too:

El libro es fantástico.

La película es fantástica.

There are some rules that you can follow when it comes to identifying masculine and feminine in Spanish.

I’m going to list them one by one, and also I will teach you what the exceptions are if there are any.

Let’s go!

Masculine words in Spanish

Nouns ending with -o

All of the nouns ending with -o are usually masculine: el bolígrafo, el dinero, el edificio, el vaso, etc.

Exceptions: la mano, la radio, la moto, la foto.

The last three of them are actually abbreviations of feminine compound words: la radiofonía, la motocicleta, la fotografía.

It makes sense, right?

Nouns ending with -aje and -or

Nouns ending with -aje are usually masculine: el masaje, el garaje, el paisaje, el pasaje, el peaje, etc.

The same goes for nouns ending with -or: el amor, el dolor, el error, el sabor, etc.

Exception: la flor.

And since we are here, this is one of my favorite songs in Spanish! Como La Flor, by Selena.

Because why not?

Rivers, oceans, seas

Names of rivers, oceans, and seas are always masculine: el Río de la Plata, el Amazonas, el Misisipi, el Atlántico, el Pacífico, el Mediterráneo, etc.

Cardinal directions

Cardinal directions are masculine, too: el norte, el sur, el este, el oeste.

Languages

Languages are masculine: el español, el inglés, el portugués, el mandarín, el ruso, etc.

Colors

Colors are always masculine, even if they end with -a: el rojo, el negro, el azul, el naranja, el púrpura, etc.

Days and months

Days and months are masculine: el lunes, el miércoles, el sábado, este abril, ese enero, etc.

Feminine words in Spanish

Nouns ending with -a

Nouns ending with -a are usually feminine: la mesa, la cama, la casa, la palabra, etc.

Exceptions: el mapa, el día, el planeta, el sofá, el problema, el tema, el sistema, el idioma, el drama, etc.

Do you see those words ending with -ma? They actually come from Ancient Greek and they are all masculine: el dilema, el emblema, el teorema, el fonema, el lexema

Exceptions to that rule are la crema and la yema, which come from French and Latin respectively.

Nouns ending with -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad, and -tud

Nouns ending in -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad and -tud are feminine: la canción, relación, la televisión, la expresión, la ciudad, la verdad, la libertad, la amistad, la solicitud, la juventud, etc.

A lot of them are identical or almost identical to words you already know in English!

Read 250 words that are the same in English and Spanish and Spanish words that are similar to English words to boost your vocabulary right away!

Nouns ending with -dez and -umbre

Nouns ending with -dez and -umbre are usually feminine, too: la solidez, la desnudez, la costumbre, la incertidumbre, etc.

Letters

The letters of the alphabet are feminine: la a, la be, la ce, la de, etc.

A special case! Feminine words with masculine articles

We use the masculine definite article (el) in singular with feminine nouns that start with an A when the stress is put on the first syllable.

We do this in order to avoid a cacophony, a mixture of unpleasant sounds to our ears.

That’s why agua, a feminine noun, in singular is el agua. Otherwise, it would sound like laaagua.

The L cuts that unpleasant sound: el agua.

You will notice that when adjectives modify such words, they are feminine:

¿El agua está fría o tibia? (= Is the water cold or lukewarm?)

Also, in plural they keep the feminine definite article (las), because the S avoids the cacophony: las aguas.

More examples: área (el área/las áreas), aula (el aula/las aulas), águila (el águila/las águilas), etc.

With these nouns in singular, the indefinite article (un/una) is masculine, too: un aula, un águila, etc. Although it’s not really incorrect to use the feminine form, it’s less common.

But be careful! When using demonstrative pronouns (esta, esa, aquella) with these words, they stay feminine. Even if the nouns are in singular!

Esta área / Esta aula / Esta águila

And if there’s another word between the definite article (el/la) and the noun, we use the feminine article:

La extensa área / La imponente aula / La hermosa águila

Masculine or feminine? Use a dictionary!

Sometimes you can’t tell if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish only by its form. In those cases, you can always look it up on a dictionary, such as the Diccionario de la Lengua Española.

Dictionaries always indicate the grammatical gender of a noun!

Now let’s see how to know if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish when talking about people and animals…

A dog plays in the water - masculine and feminine in Spanish
El perro negro juega en el agua fría. Foto de Chris F en Pexels

Masculine and feminine in Spanish for people and animals

Nouns ending with -or / consonant

Nouns that refer to people and animals have two forms. The masculine form is the one that appears on a dictionary.

Generally, if the masculine form ends with an -o, to form the feminine you just need to replace it with an -a:

El chico -> La chica

El perro -> La perra

If the masculine form ends witn a consonant, to form the feminine we just add an -a:

El profesor -> La profesora

El león -> La leona

Nouns ending with -e

They usually have the same form for masculine and feminine: el/la estudiante, el/la cantante, el/la agente, el/la paciente, etc.

An exception is nene (colloquial term for little kid): el nene -> la nena.

However, with some specific nouns (especially when we talk about professions) we do replace the -e with an -a, and both forms are correct:

El presidente -> La presidente / La presidenta

El gerente -> La gerente / La gerenta

El jefe -> La jefe / La jefa

El cliente -> La cliente / La clienta

Nouns ending with -ista, -ía, and -(a)tra

When they refer to professions, words ending with -ista have the same form for masculine and feminine: el/la dentista, el/la artista, el/la periodista, el/la pianista.

We can include el/la cineasta within this group.

It’s the same for words ending with -ía: el/la espía, el/la policía, el/la guía.

And with -(a)tra, especially in the medical field: el/la foniatra, el/la pediatra, el/la obstetra.

Grammatical gender in Spanish: special cases for people

Sometimes we have a different word for each sex:

El hombre -> La mujer

El padre -> La madre

El padrina -> La madrina

Or specific endings for both:

El actor -> La actriz

El rey -> La reina

El alcade -> La alcaldesa

Grammatical gender in Spanish: special cases for animals

Just the same as what happens with people, sometimes we have different words for each sex:

El caballo -> La yegua

El toro -> La vaca

Or special endings:

El gallo -> La gallina

El tigre -> La tigresa

Many words have an only form, masculine or feminine:

El tiburón, el cocodrilo, el dinosaurio, el pulpo, etc.

La jirafa, la hormiga, la tortuga, etc.

In those cases, if we want to specify the sex, we need to add macho (male) or hembra (female):

La cocodrilo El cocodrilo hembra

El jirafa La jirafa macho

Different gender, different meaning

Finally, a word can change its meaning according to its ending. Here there are some examples:

El manzano (tree) – La manzana (fruit)

El naranjo (tree) – La naranja (fruit)

El cuadro (picture) – La cuadra (block)

El cuento (tale) – La cuenta (account, sum)

Sometimes the word is the same and we can only figure out the meaning with the articles or pronouns that go with them:

El capital (money) – La capital (capital city)

El cura (priest) – La cura (cure)

El editorial (editorial) – La editorial (publisher)

El pendiente (earring) – La pendiente (slope)

And that’s all for today!

Do you want to learn more Spanish?

I hope you have enjoyed this article about masculine and feminine in Spanish!

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Thank you very much and until next time,

Kevin.

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